From Pop Up galleries in Shoreditch to the quiet monied galleries of Mayfair and the auction rooms of St James’s, London’s Art world and its famous personalities are richly embroidered throughout the intriguing story line.
Set in the London Art World, party queen, Saskia Williams spends her entire tiny wage as a curator at the Mayfair Gallery where she works on vintage clothes she discovers on the Portobello Rd. But she has big dreams for her career and a detailed life plan to achieve them.
Saskia’s pursuit of career success in the Art World threatens to be derailed by a stream of unsuitable men, a Home Counties mother determined to marry her off to the first willing candidate and a passion for vintage clothes that threatens to bankrupt her.
Fortunately Saskia, like her heroine Gertrude Whitney Vanderbilt, is a massive fan of the “write your dreams down to make them become a reality,” school of thought.
Her lists are legion but her most pressing list at the moment is:
Things I Long To Achieve Before Turning 30
*Be interviewed by Vogue about my opinions on British Art (see also List of Magazines I Want to Feature In)
*Join an exclusive health club such as The Groucho (all that witty repartee builds the art world networking muscles)
*Have a bank balance written in black ink rather than red (see list of designer vintage items I CAN’T live without & list of Vintage Designer Clothes I MUST Own)
Saskia William’s lists look like becoming reality when one of the richest and most attractive players in the Art World flies in from New York, walks into her gallery and buys an entire show and sets in motion a series of events that no list can navigate….
Things I Long to Experience before Turning Thirty
- Be interviewed by Vogue about my opinions on British Art.
- Make love in a hallway because I can’t wait to get to the bedroom.
- Fall in love at first sight.
- Receive a proposal of marriage (I don’t necessarily want to say yes).
- Kiss all the way home in a taxi.
- Lie about where I spent the night.
- Join an exclusive health club such as Groucho’s (all that witty repartee must be good for you).
- Be a real size ten.
- Have a bank balance written in black ink rather than red.
- New York.
Being dropped is v. unpleasant. The great minds of the twenty-first century want to get their act together on this one. Forget discovering the secret to immortality and world peace, they want to focus their grant money on finding a palliative for being dumped.
It doesn’t matter what your IQ, your postcode or your income bracket, nothing can cushion the blow of being chucked.
Even for perfect size tens with brilliant career prospects who know that the next boyfriend is just around the corner, being dumped can annihilate a girl’s self-image. For a size twelve with a thigh complex, though, bouncing back is even harder – especially when the big Three-O is looming.
Some people will tell you that turning thirty is no different to turning twenty-nine, but we all know that’s bollocks. A bit like when your parents tell you ‘These are the best years of your life’, when you’re thirteen and covered in pimples.
I had Turning Thirty pencilled into my diary for three weeks’ time – although I was still hoping to cancel if I got a better offer. Last month I had even requested another birth certificate in the hope of finding that I actually had another year up my sleeve. Forget it.
Thirty is a benchmark age like twenty-one and thirty-five and thirty-nine. You can tell yourself that it means nothing, that it’s just a number, but then again, you can tell yourself that you’ll fit into a size eight doesn’t mean you will. From age thirty I would have to stop referring to myself as a girl, wearing kitten heels with bare legs and buying my clothes on the Portobello Road.
Normally when my self-esteem has taken a thrashing, I’ll go shopping. Not Bond Street or Knightsbridge my pay packet doesn’t extend that far, and besides, even though I might covet the window displays of Prada or Dolce & Gabbana, I’m actually a refusenik as far as fashion goes. My girlfriends call me a ‘runway refugee.’
I faced this fact years ago as a teenager, actually.
Even designer clothes come out like anarchic battle dress on me. It’s genetic – my father was a mountain climber and my mother was, like most middle-class English mothers of her time, a Burberry bag lady.
I’m far happier in a mini boasting bare legs (hopefully without too many shaving cuts) and a knee-length leather coat. Or even better, a pair of jeans and tee shirt nicked from my latest lover. There is something v. rewarding about managing to slip into a slim-hipped ex-boyfriend’s Calvin Kleins.
But this time, not even the promise of squeezing into my ex’s jeans could lift me from the well of my misery. That’s how bad it was. You see, this was no ordinary dropping; this was a dropping of my own making, a more or less auto-dropping, in that I had virtually hounded the love of my life into dumping me. Only I didn’t realise that he was the love of my life until after he dumped me. Obviously. One never does.
In fact, I’d even flirted with the idea of dumping him a few days earlier. But now that I’d been dropped I was able to see that Emmanuel was actually my soulmate all along. My sense of loss was overwhelming.
Now, here I was, on the morning after this historic dumping, slumped over the triangular glass desk at A SPACE, the hipper-than-formaldehyde gallery off Bond Street. No doubt you’ve heard of it – it was at the vanguard of all those late nineties Cool Britannia artists that pickled their bodies, etc., etc. V. old hat now, of course, v. file-your-nails-and-yawn stuff. Still, it was art.
Out of the corner of one eye, I watched potential buyers walk past, look in, spot me dribbling over my desk and then scuttle off. I had to face it. I was scaring customers away.
Brilliant, my better self taunted my deeply self-pitying self; just when you are totally dependent on commission, you start frightening off the punters.
I laid my head on the cool surface of the desk and watched my breath mist up the glass. I might even have said something pathetic that girls stopped saying, like, a century ago, such as ‘God, I’m pointless’. Basically I was in a seriously regressive state. If someone had started singing a Chris De Burgh song at that moment, I probably would have joined in.
It had all started with a list, which sounds harmless in itself but, as any solicitor will tell you, putting things in writing can land you in court or worse. This was worse. I’ve never had any problems over my lists before. I’ve always made lists. Gertrude Whitney Vanderbilt always made lists too. I’m a List girl rather than an It girl.
The problem with this list, though, was that I showed it to my boyfriend Emmanuel. Ironically the list was meant to help him understand me. Only I wasn’t laughing.
It was my therapist’s idea to show it to him, natch.
God, how had I been so stupid? I mean, who actually takes their therapist’s advice? What kind of schmuck was I? Just thinking about Emmanuel’s reaction when he’d read the list made me want to tear my hair out in fistfuls.
I think the point where I requested a blanket ban on all sport hit him the hardest. His face had practically slid off his head like he’d been scalped or something.
After that he’d gone berserk. He’d expressed himself more eloquently in English than he’d ever managed before. When he’d exhausted his Berlitz vocab, he’d run out v. passionately. It was my impression at the time that he wasn’t planning to return. There were no au revoirs.
He was probably the one true love of my life, I realized now as I draped myself pathetically across my desk, and I had driven him away with my petty needs. That was another list I was working on, a list in progress so to speak: a list of desires unsuitable in a thirty-year-old girl/woman.
My desires too were becoming a bit of a problem these days. When I was in my early twenties I didn’t have a need to rub together. Back then my life was a series of wants and whims, but recently I had felt overwhelmed by longings that seemed to lunge out of me in the most awkward situations. Sometimes I would be making love or snuggling up against a lover’s back and wham, there they were – my needs and longings. Destroying near perfect bliss.
I had hoped that writing those longings down might bring me closer to fulfilling them, but the list just seemed to grow longer and longer and less and less achievable.
People who write things down are more likely to be successful. They did a survey at Yale and discovered that only six per cent of graduates had a clear idea of what their goals were, and out of that six per cent, it was the one per cent who wrote those goals down who achieved what they longed for.
I write a lot of lists. Gertrude Whitney Vanderbilt (my idol) who started the Whitney Museum was a big list-maker too. In fact, practically everything that is known about her was gleaned from the lists she made.
My lists range from lists of items I need to add to my wardrobe, to things I really must do, like start a pension plan. I even keep a hit list. That was another list that Emmanuel took umbrage at. But, like I told him, every sophisticated girl has a hit list; it’s part of the new immorality sweeping the world. Lots of girls must wonder what the world would be like if, say, their boss wasn’t in it.
It doesn’t mean you’re not a nice person just because you’d like to see someone who makes you feel dreadful taken out of the frame, does it? Let’s face it, if they started offering contract killers over the counter, London would be a bloodbath by lunchtime.
Most of my family, my boss, several old boyfriends and all my fellow commuters on the Central line have made it onto my hit list at one time or another. I’ve even ended up there myself on occasion, when I’ve done something so stupid that I shouldn’t be allowed to go on living.
My most pointless list, though, was the list I started five years ago based on what I wanted to achieve by age thirty. With the mad confidence of a girl still in her mid-twenties, I had hoped to be the proud owner of my own gallery, in a fulfilling relationship (or two) and a size ten.
Obviously it wasn’t looking v. likely now. On top of my pants career prospects and size-twelve dress size, I’d been chucked. Talk about grim. Now was the time to start gathering boyfriends, laying them down for the future, so to speak. It certainly wasn’t the time for driving them away.
Let’s face it; my chances of getting another boyfriend at this late stage were next to dismal. All the good-looking men with sound hygiene codes were either gay or taken. Hoping to find Mr. Right after thirty was a bit like turning up to the January sales in February: chances were I was going to walk away with the male equivalent of lime-green hot pants with tassels. I was going to have to take what I could get.
Looking at my reflection in the glass of the desk, I saw an emotionally disfigured girl. I was scarred by my lover’s rejection. I needed emotional surgery and even then, those in the know would probably be able to spot the scalpel marks.
I looked down at my bare legs, a bit cut up after a shave with a blunt Gillette. They were sticking out from my latest Portobello find, a brown leather seventies mini, and I began to wonder if it was actually my legs that had turned him off me. I mean, maybe it wasn’t the list after all, I reasoned, trying to back out of the blame.
It seems so unfair that a girl’s own body can work against her aim to be a total head-turning babe that every man desires and every woman envies, but there it was. My body was on a counter-mission to expose me as size twelve instead of the size eight I longed to be.
My body was a bitch who took every opportunity to make me look less than perfect. My upper legs being the main offender, they were unbelievably disloyal: even after I’d started buying those fifteen-denier tights that make your legs look incredibly thin, they had managed to bulge.
Just then my boss walked in and gave me the afternoon off to ‘sort myself out’.
Hello? Was I dreaming? I looked at him curiously for signs of mania. If you knew my boss, you’d realize how deeply troubling this was. I mean, normally I had to lose an eye to get a ten-minute lunch break, let alone a whole afternoon off.
I know that people outside the art world think of it as an easy ride, say, compared to accountancy and law but the truth is, art is peopled by cutthroat businessmen and cut-your-heart-out artists. But despite my boss’s uncharacteristic largesse, this was not the kind of mess that was going to be sorted out in an afternoon, and I told him as much.
‘Don’t you realise’: I’d said to him, ‘that my life is over?’
He’d looked at me briefly, in a sort of sneering way, before shaking his head and walking off. As far as my boss is concerned, my life never really got off the ground in the first place.
Still, not one to look gift horses in the mouth, I seized the moment and rang Sophie, my best friend of ten years, to see if she wanted to come out and play.
Her assistant told me that she was ‘unavailable’. This deflated me even further; the word ‘available’ held an extra poignancy for me today, feeling, as I did, v. much available.
I could never seem to reach Sophie these days; we’d hardly seen each other in weeks, which was a big change given our years of history together. She was a genuine fashion cognoscente with a black belt in looking good. Like I said, I was a runway refugee with more sass than class, so between us I guess we were a complete woman.
Sophie was no doubt extremely busy being a hotshot editor on Class magazine. I imagined her flying around in taxis, chatting on her mobile phone, heading for editorial meetings on the fifth-floor restaurant of Harvey Nichols.
Sophie was a girl with a real career, unlike my dogs body job. She was a girl men fell over themselves to worship. When she eased on a pair of fifteen denier tights, her thighs did what they were supposed to do. Which meant that even if I had got on to her, there was probably no way she’d understand my plight. She had no reference point for this kind of angst. God, I was feeling sorry for myself.
Next I rang my flatmate Alice and pleaded with her to dig me out of my depression. Alice was much more understanding. She was American and positive and impossibly enthusiastic in a cool ‘whatever’ kind of New York way. She’s been in therapy all her life, and has answers where I only have lists of questions.
Being the brick she is, she agreed to get the afternoon off and meet me in a bar off Hoxton Square near the gallery where she works. She hinted at vodka drinking, and I saw her point immediately.
“Tyne O’Connell delivers some superbly sassy one-liners in this hilarious romp through the art world. Definitely a book for the modern girl.” CHAT Magazine UK
“As the wife of an artist I was part of the London art world and its players which gave me plenty of materiel to draw on. Though based on real life and real people, I promise, this book is pure fiction!” Tyne O’Connell CONTEMPORARY AUTHORS 2002
“A sure footed romp, spiced with spot-on bad-taste humour a la Kathy Lette and the Ab Fab team, and some excellent characterisation. Bravo!” Who Weekly
“Tyne O’Connell delivers some superbly sassy one-liners in this hilarious romp through the art world. Definitely a book for the modern girl.” CHAT Magazine UK
“Bridget Jones on speed” The Guardian UK
“Brings to mind Kathy Lette and Jilly Cooper” Mail on Sunday UK
“Lightening-fast comic twists.” Elle
“Ab Fab meets Sex In The City!” The Telegraph UK
“Makes This Life look tame by comparison.” Independent on Sunday
“A spirited page turner that is high on humour.” Company
“Full of high octane court room drama, lashings of comedy and crackling with un-zipped one liners.” BookChitChats
“Readers will no doubt enjoy this glimpse into sophisticated London nightlife.” American Library Association
“A right Royal read.” The Mayfair Times
“Budding Anglophiles ….will soak up the flood of upper-class British culture in this book” – WASHINGTON COUNTY COOPERATIVE LIBRARY SERVICES
“A tale of celebrity, catastrophe & ‘The Rules’ – Manhatten Style.”- Publishing News
“Wickedly Funny” – Publishing News
“Frothy and fast-paced” Publishers Weekly